Shauna Miller is a writer based in Washington, D.C. She is the former managing editor of CityLab.
This year saw support for medical and recreational weed grow all over the country. The smoke is still clearing on what it all means.
It's been a blazingly successful year for marijuana advocates. The use of marijuana for medical purposes is now legal in 23 states and D.C., with Maryland, Minnesota, and New York passing their own legislation on such use this year. Maryland, Missouri, and D.C. decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot, and all that happened in the wake of Washington state and Colorado fully implementing their legalization laws this year, too. (Alaska and Oregon also passed legalization laws this year, which won't go into effect until later.)*
It would be understandable, of course, if certain specifics of the year's marijuana-related highlights remain cloudy. In case anyone has some blank spots, here’s a handy recap of 2014’s high points:
True to the city’s style, San Francisco saw a number of app-based delivery services for medical pot emerge this year, including Canary and Eaze. The services have struggled to stay within the bounds of changing regulations, such as whether they can accept debit cards. (The Treasury and Justice Departments have since issued guidelines for banks servicing legal-weed sellers, and more than 100 banks currently do such business).
The year’s biggest bud-related change came out of Colorado, a mild-mannered state shaped like a square that has turned out to be anything but.
On the first day of 2014, after 55 percent of voters greenlighted the sale of recreational pot back in 2012, Colorado began retail sales to those 21 or older. True believers in national legalization are taking notes on Denver’s remarkably functional system. Purchases are limited to one ounce at a time to residents; out-of-staters can buy a quarter of an ounce. It is taxed heavily: a 25 percent state tax on top of a standard 2.9 percent sales tax. That’s expected to bring in $67 million a year for the state, with more than $27 million earmarked for schools. The licensing process for shops is extensive, and there is a waiting list. Unlicensed individuals who happen to have copious amounts of marijuana can also legally “give” up to an ounce to a friend, but no money can be exchanged in the process.
Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000, but the state’s recreational-use laws are drawing new residents in need of pot as a medical treatment who cannot access it in their home states, like these 17 Georgia families.
In June, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd made the most rookie of pot mistakes and ate an entire chocolate-caramel-weed candy bar alone in a Colorado hotel (possibly containing enough THC to stone 16 people; it was unlabeled). Unsurprisingly, Dowd had the worst time ever:
I strained to remember where I was or even what I was wearing, touching my green corduroy jeans and staring at the exposed-brick wall. As my paranoia deepened, I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me.
Dowd redeemed herself in a September column where she chatted about edibles and vaporizers with “marijuana Miyagi” Willie Nelson: “When Willie Nelson invites you to get high with him on his bus, you go.”
Nebraska and Oklahoma
Just this month, Nebraska and Oklahoma asked the U.S. Supreme Court to declare Colorado's legal-weed laws unconstitutional—on the grounds that their own states’ residents are bringing it over the Colorado border. The Justice Department said in August that it won’t crack down on Colorado or any other state with legal-weed laws. But the states say that Colorado’s law conflicts with federal pot-enforcement laws, and that federal law must win out according to the Constitution—especially when a substance illegal in their states is making its way easily across state lines.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed his state's controversial medical marijuana bill into law in July. The law, which won't go into effect until 2016, is one of the most rigid in in the country, allowing only certain strains and tincture-based delivery systems to be used for treatment. Activists are disappointed that there is no fast-track for patients currently in need of the drug. In September, Cuomo appealed to the DOJ for permission to legally import marijuana for medical use on a restricted-case basis.
Washington voters legalized recreational use of marijuana in 2012—also decriminalizing the possession and personal use of up to an ounce of pot by anyone over 21—but retail sales did not begin until this July, when the state opened more than 20 shops selling legal pot to adults 21 and older and with a taxation system in line with Colorado's. The two states are currently the only ones selling plain ol' retail weed in the country.
State law enforcement has since expressed concern over “buzzed driving,” which is harder to identify and police than drunk driving. In November, Washington State University researchers continued work on a breath test police could use to determine whether a driver is under the influence of marijuana. A proposed law would set the legal limit at 5 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood, and police could start testing as early as January of this year.
In November, the family of reggae legend Bob Marley and a Seattle-based company announced the development of Marley Natural, a range of cannabis-packed buds, oils, and concentrates branded by the same folks who handled New Balance and Starbucks Coffee. “It was unruly for them to call it weed or drugs,” Marley’s widow, Rita Marley, told NBC News. “We saw it as a spiritual thing, given to us by God.”
In July, Washington, D.C. decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, replacing possible jail time with a $25 civil fine. The same law changed some police-search guidelines: The smell of marijuana is no longer a legal reason for cops to search your home or person. However, this changes only city law, not federal, which in a city littered with federal property (including the National Mall and most parks inside the District) makes this law a particularly tricky one to navigate.
In November, D.C. voters went one step further and approved a full legalization referendum by a wide margin. It allows for the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use by those over the age of 21. Adults can give up to an ounce of marijuana to another adult, but no money can change hands. Residents may also grow up to six mature plants, but no more than 12 total in one house or apartment. After the customary D.C.-isn't-a-state congressional review period, the law was expected to go into effect sometime in the first quarter of 2015. However, its fate is currently unclear following a rider tucked into the so-called "cromnibus" spending bill by Maryland Republican Andy Harris, which in theory blocks the District from spending any money on implementing the law. D.C. officials are currently exploring their options.
Meanwhile, in Amsterdam
The winners of the 2014 Cannabis Cup (November 23 -27) were:
1st - Crockett Family Farms - Tangie Crockett's Cut
2nd - DNA Genetics - Tangie
3rd - PhenoFinders - Lemon Bubble
1st - The Vault Genetics - Colorado Bubba
2nd - True Canna Genetics - The Truth
3rd - DNA Genetics - Kosher Kush
(Try Leafly, the Yelp for weed, for more information on these strains.)
In January, President Obama told The New Yorker, regarding pot, “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”
And by the end of the year, Congress had actually gone ahead and decided to end any further federal action or enforcement against medical marijuana.
Nationally, marijuana arrests were down for the fourth year in a row in 2014.
A majority of Americans now favor legalization and decriminalization for pot.
Some grandmas got high.
*This post has been updated to include states who passed legislation this year that will not go into effect until later.